Former Oratory Prep Chaplain Charged with Endangering 6 Students

By Caren Lisner
October 1, 2020

SUMMIT, NJ A Catholic priest who previously served as the chaplain of Oratory Preparatory School in Summit has been arrested and charged with threatening the welfare of six students, acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo said Thursday.

Prosecutors allege he ran a student club in which students engaged in illicit activities.

Salvatore DiStefano, 61, is charged with six counts of endangering the welfare of a child and five counts of use of a juvenile to commit a crime.

Prosecutors say DiStefano led a club of about 30 hand-picked Oratory Prep students, known as the "Knights of Malta," in which he prosecutors alleged in a release "would frequently attempt to speak with the students about sex and instructed a student to masturbate in order to relieve stress."

The Prosecutor's Office also said "Father Sal," as he was known, allegedly:

As previously reported in Patch, DiStefano was placed on leave by Oratory Prep in January, pending the outcome of an investigation.

A biography of DiStefano that was on the school's website in January, since removed, said he had experience in law enforcement and teaching, as well as doctorates in education and psychology.

He had been a New York City teacher and a law enforcement officer with the New York City Department of Probation and the New York City Police Department Division of School Safety. He also served on the New York City Department of Probation Task Force for Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse Prevention.

Other actions

The release also detailed incidents in which DiStefano "took actions designed to maintain his control over the group."

At one point, according to the investigation, DiStefano attempted to convince students to harass and otherwise intimidate a student who had been dismissed from the club, ordering the others to make the student's daily life so difficult that he would quit school.

The alleged efforts included convincing one student to post false negative information about the other student on social media.

In another instance, according to the release, "When DiStefano learned that the former club member was hosting a party, he allegedly instructed current club members to plan a party for the same night so that no one would show up."

For the party, he told them to let him know which alcohol he should buy for them, prosecutors said.

The charges are the result of an investigation by the Prosecutor's Office's Special Victims Unit into DiStefano's conduct.

The arrest

According to the press release, DiStefano recently resided at Our Lady of Peace Roman Catholic Church on South Street in New Providence.

DiStefano was arrested without incident on Thursday and charged pending a first appearance and detention hearing scheduled to take place in Superior Court.

The Archdiocese of Newark and Oratory Preparatory School each cooperated with the Prosecutor's Office in its investigation.

In announcing the arrest, Ruotolo stated: "The conduct unearthed by our investigative team represents an egregious and total betrayal of trust by a person who was supposed to be helping young men, not hurting them."

Anyone with information regarding DiStefano's activities is urged to contact Prosecutor's Office Lieutenant Timothy Durkin at (973) 698-9529.

When Attorney General Grewal formed the Clergy Abuse Task Force in September 2018, he established a Clergy Abuse Hotline 855-363-6548 which is staffed by trained professionals and operated on a 24/7 basis. More than 600 calls have been received through the hotline to date.

Convictions on second-degree criminal offenses ("use of a juvenile") are commonly punishable by five to 10 years in state prison, while third-degree crimes (endangering) can result in terms of three to five years.

These criminal charges are mere accusations. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

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